High school custodian drowns while rescuing 8-year-old in river, Iowa officials say

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GoFundMe screengrab

A 42-year-old man is being referred to as a “hero” after officials say he drowned while rescuing an 8-year-old boy struggling to swim in the Iowa River.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said the drowning happened on Friday, Aug. 5, in a rural part of the county about 40 miles south of Cedar Rapids. When the 8-year-old entered the river and began struggling, Wegayewu Faris and a kayaker tried saving him, according to the sheriff.

The boy was rescued and bystanders performed CPR on him, but Faris became submerged. His body was found about an hour after he went under the water, sheriff’s officials said.

The sheriff said Faris and the child are not related and were a part of separate families who went to the river to go fishing. He called Faris and the bystander “instrumental” in saving the 8-year-old, who was taken to University of Iowa Hospitals.

Faris was an evening custodian at City High School in Iowa City, school principal John Bacon wrote in a Twitter post. He said Faris demonstrated a “selfless act of bravery.”

“A kind, amazing person,” Bacon said of Faris. “He drowned saving the life of a young child. A hero.”

He had worked at the high school for 17 years, the Iowa City Community School District said in a statement.

Family members are attempting to bring Faris’ body back to his native Ethiopia, according to a GoFundMe. He was a husband and father to three children, ages 12, 8 and 6.

“Wegayewu took care of everyone around him in any way that he could,” the GoFundMe states. “He had a very big heart, hardworking hands, a very determined mindset and a smile that could brighten a dark room.”

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